Cartier: The trauma of feeling powerless in the face of danger (column) | VailDaily.com

Cartier: The trauma of feeling powerless in the face of danger (column)

Jacqueline Cartier
My View

The fabric of our nation's history includes the fundamental belief that we control our destiny — the American dream. Hard work, dedication and a commitment to the idea that we can accomplish anything are at the core of our entrepreneurial spirit and have made us the most innovative nation in the world.

So, what happens when that strength is shaken by unanticipated events? The recent fires have threatened not only property and potentially lives but have also caused a deep unease throughout the entire community. Even those not evacuated experienced a sense of fear as they saw friends and family escaping their homes in tears among the backdrop of red flames and black smoke.

An event such as this leaves an imprint that sits at the core of our primal instinct for survival. Even upon return and discovering that everything is indeed OK, the threat that hit so close to home magnifies a sense of helplessness.

Fire, specifically, generates visions of an evil inferno, and when that image becomes real and has you in its path, that deep-seated fear can become overwhelming; and if that wasn't enough, then this emotional state can trigger old memories of prior fears, even from childhood, reliving every tiny detail and making mental connections that solidify the terror on multiple levels. The stress can produce reactions of post-traumatic stress disorder.

People often say they feel silly seeking emotional support; after all, they are fine. However, it is not the end result that remains distressing but, rather, the realization that we are much more fragile than we care to admit. Suppressing those emotions can lead to inappropriate outbursts; feelings of extreme vulnerability (seeing danger in areas where it is non-existent); sleeplessness, as the body is continually in fight or flight mode; a sense of sadness and loss at the near-miss, which can easily turn into depression; and an increased inclination to self-medicate through excessive alcohol or drug use.

If ignored, then these behaviors can result in loss of relationships or even a job.

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These reactions are far from silly; they are based on the body's instinct to survive. Intellectually, we know we are fine, yet emotionally we are suddenly aware of our vulnerability and need to protect ourselves. Some will say focus on all that you have, yet somehow your brain keeps saying, "Yeah, but don't get too comfortable because it can be taken away in an instant."

That contrast seems particularly stark when compared to the normal safety and tranquility of our communities, as we grieve the loss of innocence that we might never feel quite as safe again.

The recent focus on mental health has made Eagle County much more aware of the need for otherwise healthy individuals to seek a little help through life's tumultuous journey. There are many resources available, and a quick call to the county offices can direct you to the best source.

Exactly how do we regain a sense of control? Well, one way is the blame game.

If someone else is to blame, then we are relieved of guilt. No more questions of what could we have done to prevent this? The list is extensive when it comes to the blame game.

While two people being reckless triggered the Lake Christine fire, make no mistake it was Mother Nature that quickly ate away timber like a vintage Pac-Man game. Wildfires are nature's way of clearing away dead brush to make room for new growth, even at the risk of lives. Yet thankfully, we have technology and human bravery to fight off its total devastation. Thanks once again to our amazing first responders.

We arrested the two people who triggered the fire, but somehow it doesn't seem like enough. We are still frightened. Perhaps we'll feel better if we attack the gun range, even though it has been quietly training generations of gun users on how to avoid precisely this scenario. Without a gun range, people might be inclined to go shooting in any wilderness area, creating a much more dangerous scenario with hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Guns are part of Colorado culture, and removing the gun range will not eliminate the use of firearms. In the era of "safe spaces," the gun range is one of the safest. Let's exercise our sense of control by educating young people about gun safety. The gun range, surrounded by the ashes of ignorance and irresponsibility, is the ideal environment for that lesson.

This will be my last column until after Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, as I am running for Eagle County commissioner. Please review the platform details on my website, http://www.cartierforcommissioner.com, and feel free to submit ideas. This campaign is a communitywide venture.

Jacqueline Cartier is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at winningimages.cartier@gmail.com.